The conservation, rehabilitation and sustainability of existing structures and designated historic buildings are crucially important issues, both in Canada and worldwide.
The National Trust for Canada estimates that in 2012 there were more than 25,000 properties designated as “heritage” by federal, provincial or local authorities in Canada. This number is estimated to grow by 420 designations annually. In a 2003 report commissioned by The National Trust, 10% of pre-1941 properties were estimated to have heritage value. This means that there are more than 128,000 properties in Canada that may require intervention by heritage rehabilitation specialists for restoration, preservation, energy upgrades or monitoring. The Heritage Conservation Directorate of Public Works and Government Services Canada estimates that it will need 250 to 300 professionals with specialist engineering skills and heritage conservation training to address the needs of federally owned heritage buildings alone. Given that the federal government currently manages less than 5% of Canada’s designated heritage properties, the potential magnitude of demand is huge.
Heritage buildings are not the only issue. Even the most energy-efficient new building cannot offset its embodied energy for many years. Rehabilitating these existing structures will reduce the carbon footprint and may mitigate the acceleration of climate change. It has been estimated by Blue Green Canada that efforts to reduce energy and gas consumption through retrofits and upgrades will increase employment in Ontario by over 25,000 by 2025. Gelfand and Duncan have suggested that “the vast majority of the buildings to be occupied during the next 30 years are already constructed. Existing buildings are the most important places to realize big changes now and in the near future.” The National Trust for historic Preservation report on “The Greenest Building” suggests that reusing an existing building and upgrading it to maximum efficiency is almost always the best option. Regardless of building type and climate, reusing existing buildings can offer an important means of avoiding unnecessary carbon outlays and help communities achieve their carbon reduction goals.
In order to develop and deploy advanced technologies, materials and methods for the assessment, conservation, rehabilitation and sustainable repair and operation of both existing structures and designated heritage buildings, there is a critical need for interdisciplinary training among engineers, architects and heritage professionals. NSERC CREATE Heritage Engineering is designed to address this need.